Michelle Obama heads to Africa, stirs criticism

Rachel Rose Hartman
The Ticket

First Lady Michelle Obama embarks today on a weeklong trip to Africa to spread goodwill. But the trip is already stirring criticism, making it just the latest travel choice by the First Lady to draw some negative press for the White House.

The aim of Obama's tour, which will take her to South Africa and Botswana, is to engage with young people--especially girls and women--who play prominent roles in academic life and civic leadership, while also furthering awareness on health and wellness issues.

But, as Washington Post writer Krissah Thompson notes, the trip is already provoking disappointment from Africa advocates who argue that President Obama, whose father was Kenyan, hasn't devoted enough time to the continent since winning the presidency. Mwiza Munthali, public outreach director of TransAfrica Forum, argues that U.S. officials "are not seeing Africa as a big priority. There has been some ambivalence." The president has made just one trip to sub-Saharan Africa since his Jan. 2009 inauguration and has chosen not to accompany his wife on her journey.

This isn't the first time the First Lady has come under fire for travel plans. Below we review some of Michelle Obama's past controversies around trips:

• The glitzy Spanish getaway: The First Lady raised eyebrows last August when she decided to jaunt off to Spain, commanding top-dollar luxury accommodations in the middle of a recession. The New York Daily News called her "a modern-day Marie Antoinette."

• The greeting leaders with creative diplomacy in England, Indonesia: The ever-delicate question of international etiquette has made trouble for the First Lady on a couple of foreign trips. In April 2009, she broke royal protocol and hugged Queen Elizabeth, causing a major stir in England and elsewhere. Then in Indonesia last November, Michelle Obama shook the hand of a conservative Muslim minister, a form of social contact between the sexes that violated his religious vows. He blamed the First Lady for the violation.

• The visit to immigration-complicated Mexico: Critics accused the First Lady of organizing a frivolous trip to Mexico in April 2010 with Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden. While that trip, too, was aimed primarily on establishing contact with younger civic leaders, some detractors called out the First Lady for taking time to travel to a country that's long been a flashpoint in U.S. immigration policy. Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, for instance, argued that the trip was little more than an effort to promote "illegal alien shamnesty."

(Photo of Michelle Obama: Chris Carlson/AP)